The International Olympic Committee is fed up to here — no, way past that, up to, like, there — with the now-arrested Carlos Nuzman, head of the Rio 2016 Games and the Brazilian Olympic Committee.
In its zeal to appear decisive in the wake of Nuzman’s Thursday arrest in Rio, the IOC on Friday announced it was suspending both Nuzman and the Brazilian Olympic Committee, which goes by the acronym COB.
Zeal is rarely constructive.
Why? When you act in haste, you generally don’t think through all the consequences of what you’re doing.
So, for instance:
Brazil is now suspended but the Russians, steeped in accusations of doping of all sorts, aren’t?
And the Russians, as everyone closely connected to the Olympic scene well knows, are for sure going to be in PyeongChang this February for the Winter Games?
So let’s get this straight:
The Brazilian athletes are, according to the IOC decision Friday — but the COB isn’t? Nothing about the Russians has been announced but the odds are very strong: Russian athletes, coaches, the Russian Olympic Committee — they’ll be there.
For every action, there's a reaction, right? Brazil to Russia at Olympic light speed. Believe it.
In part, the IOC action Friday is semantics.
In part, too, it’s optics.
Mostly, it's a pressure play aimed at the COB.
All this puts the IOC in a bid of its own making — one it did not have to undertake.
Again, to reiterate a point this space made just Thursday: communication.
Why oh why, does the IOC make this so difficult?
In significant measure, here is the explanation, to underscore the double-barrel made Thursday here: culture.
The IOC — this is essential to understand — is steeped in tradition. It is conservative to the core.
To get it to move like this, on a matter like this, takes something — well, extraordinary.
The investigation by French, Brazilian, U.S., Swiss and perhaps other authorities into the cash-for-votes matter now affecting the Rio 2016 and, likely, the Tokyo 2020 Games is just that. It is also at its early stages. There is presumably much more to come.
Even so, we already have the symbol of this entire blossoming scandal: 16 bars of gold.
That’s what authorities said Nuzman had stacked in a Swiss vault.
IOC leadership understands keenly that those gold bars symbolize the clash between what it says it stands for — its ideals — and what a great deal of the world believes its members, personified by Nuzman, act like.
Entitlement and personal enrichment? 16 bars of gold?
A 2014 Sochi Games that cost a purported $51 billion; a 2018 Winter Games that, fair or not, is being depicted in some quarters as the set piece for nuclear winter; a 2020 Tokyo Games that’s way over budget with the IOC now floating the notion of trimming that budget by going after the athlete village when the athletes are at the core of everything, supposedly.
And — 16 bars of gold.
Thus Friday’s move by the 15-member policy-member executive board, led by the IOC president, Thomas Bach.
The part of the IOC decision Friday that’s going to get little if no media attention may actually prove in the long-term the most significant.
Last December, the IOC “closed all its obligations” with Rio organizers having already contributed $1.53 billion to the 2016 Games; roughly $40 million, perhaps more, remains out there to be paid, with the city of Rio the financial guarantor. On Friday, the IOC opted to “suspend provisionally all other relations” with the Rio 2016 organizing committee.
Thanks, and bye-bye.
As for the rest:
Because the COB and Nuzman “were responsible for the candidature of Rio in 2009,” the board moved to “suspend provisionally” the COB, which “in particular” means “subsidies and payments from the IOC to the COB are frozen.”
This assertion completely ignores history. Yes, Nuzman and the COB per IOC rules brought the Rio candidacy forward. But if any entity or institution is significantly “responsible for the candidature of Rio in 2009,” it is the IOC itself.
Think back to the 2016 “technical” evaluation process. The IOC cut the field of 2016 applicants from seven to four. Rio? Fifth. It made the cut because the IOC — for a variety of reasons, let’s say, oh, the heat — told Doha, Qatar, thanks but no.
That pushed Rio forward against Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo. That enabled the-then IOC president, Jacques Rogge, to claim the legacy of sending the Games to South America for the first time.
Since then, let us review the Brazilian corruption scorecard:
— Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva, the then-Brazilian president who made such a stirring keynote address to the IOC as part of the Rio presentation in Copenhagen in October 2009: sentenced in July 2017 to nearly 10 years.
— Sergio Cabral, the former Rio governor: 14 years in prison.
— Nuzman: arrested.
— Leo Gryner, the Games director-general: arrested.
— Eduardo Paes, the former mayor: reportedly under investigation.
Is it any wonder the IOC is d-o-n-e with Rio?
Back to Friday’s IOC release:
The IOC insisted that “this decision shall not affect the Brazilian athletes.” Olympic scholarships, through what is called a “Solidarity” program, it said, “will continue to be paid.”
The statement also made plain — mindful of precedent and, more, of the Russians — that the IOC “will” accept a Brazilian Olympic team at PC2018.
Here is what is really going on, from the next line: “This provisional suspension may be lifted partly or fully when the governance issues of the COB have been addressed to the satisfaction of the EB.”
What we have here is a big hammer being swung from IOC headquarters in Lausanne, across the Atlantic, to Rio. As soon as the COB cleans house to IOC satisfaction — maybe within days — this “provisional suspension” will be re-considered, and maybe lifted.
At the same time, to pretend that the IOC can freeze subsidies and payments but such a decision “shall not affect the Brazilian athletes” is … nonsense. So it had better be mere days.
Because the rest of the world is clearly going to be asking, hey, you suspended the COB, really, but the Russian Olympic Committee is — what?
Which brings us back to where we started: Nuzman.
He’s 75, past the age limit for an active member. What could the executive board do? It suspended him as an honorary member. Whoop-tee-do.
It also withdrew him from his position on the coordination commission for the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Then there’s this little nugget, and no mention of this in Friday’s statement.
As is tradition, the morning after the closing ceremony, the IOC held a thank-you breakfast for Games organizers. You can read all about the Rio get-together here — it’s on the IOC website.
The IOC was always between a rock and a hard place when it came to Rio but, again — this was a situation of its own choosing.
Re-reading this release, looking anew at the pictures, knowing the nature of the relationships between some of these individuals, it’s hard to know, really, now that Nuzman is under arrest, the IOC board has issued its Friday declaration — what, in review, is the piece that is so instructive about the Rio disconnect?
“My heart is full of gratefulness, my heart is full of thanks and my heart is full of admiration for all of you,” Bach said.
No — this:
Bach awarded the IOC’s highest honor, the Olympic Order, to both Paes and Nuzman.